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Publisher's Summary

An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world's most ruthless and secretive dictatorships - and the story of one woman's terrifying struggle to avoid capture/repatriation and guide her family to freedom.

As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom, and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and realise that she had been brainwashed her entire life.

Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed, surely her country could not be, as she had been told "the best on the planet".

Aged 17, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be 12 years before she was reunited with her family.

She could not return, since rumours of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities - involving imprisonment, torture and possible public execution.

Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. And 12 years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable.

This is the unique story not only of Hyeonseo's escape from the darkness into the light but also of her coming of age and education and the resolve she found to rebuild her life - not once but twice - first in China then in South Korea. Strong, brave and eloquent, this memoir is a triumph of her remarkable spirit.

©2015 Hyeonseo Lee (P)2015 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"The most riveting TED talk ever." (Oprah)
"This is a powerful story of an escapee from North Korea. In the hallowed meeting rooms of the United Nations in New York, ambassadors from North Korea recently sought to shout down stories like this. But these voices will not be silenced. Eventually freedom will be restored. History will vindicate Hyeonseo Lee and those like her for the risks they ran so that their bodies and their minds could be free. And so that we could know the truth." (Michael Kirby, chair of the UN commission on human rights abuses in North Korea)
"When I first met Hyeonseo Lee, the unflinching manner in which she told her story was inspirational. She experienced hunger, coldness, fear, terror, threats and pursuit. All this she had to endure, simply for being a North Korean refugee. But the one thing that she held on to was her humanity, ever stronger as she continuously sublimated her hardships into hope. This is a sad and beautiful story of a girl who could not even keep her name, yet overcome all with the identity of what it is to be human." (Jang Jin-sung, author of Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee - A Look Inside North Korea)

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  • SF
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • 12-18-16

Great!

Where does The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

SPOILERS: Since living in South Korea (ROK), I've grown an affinity for books on North Korea (DPRK). This is a decent book on the subject. It doesn't give a lot of detail on life in North Korea during the "difficult times" but the author describes scenes and memories no child should.

Even Lee's escape from North Korea isn't a big deal. She simply tells a border guard she's going across. It was completely unplanned. Her escape from China to Shanghai was also uneventful. Lee just takes a flight. There are others who have much more grueling escapes. However, there is no doubt that it is an absolute challenge to do what she did and there is nothing to take away from that!

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story?

SPOILER: The author describing the man that hit his head after riding under the train and cracking his skull; just unimaginable but so nonchalant for the people at the time.

What three words best describe Josie Dunn’s performance?

Distracting, not researched

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

How far would you go for family?

Any additional comments?

The British accent on Dunn's performance is somewhat distracting as an American listener. It is very strong and nothing that I would expect a North Korean to sound like. It slightly takes away from the story.

The other issue is that the producers must of have done little research into how to pronounce the names in the book. Having lived in Seoul, Shanghai and traveled through Laos, dated a Laotian; it is mind-numbing to listen to half of these simple pronunciations.

I am no stickler for languages, but the names are so simple. The reader even gets the author's name wrong; pronouncing it Yeonseo with a "y" instead of Hyeonseao with an "hy". I mean: that's the author's name, how do you not research how to say that?!

Other names that I can remember that were pronounced incorrectly: Pyongyang, Harbin (city in China), Laos( The country had no "s" sound, although the author pronounced the language as "Lao" instead of Laotian, the normal nomenclature, but mispronounced the country.) Vientiane (The capital of Laos). She did however pronounce Shanghai correctly, perhaps because of her British accent of a short "ah" sound to shang.

All of that really took me out of the story from time to time. The author also mocks male characters, usually "bad" ones that are Korean or Chinese military guards or police. These accents are borderline cockney and just bizarre. She also mocks an American boyfriend of Lee's and that is just awful.

So, in short, at least as an American, the strong British accent just really seems wrong and does take away from the story from time to time.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Great Book

this was an amazing story! the only think that threw me was the European accent of the narrator; it initially annoyed me considering this is the story of a Korean woman, however she is very clear and not dull. great book!!!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Five stars

Would you listen to The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story again? Why?

I hardly ever give a book 5 stars and this is my first review but this book is unbelievable, I could barely put it down. This book is a page turner and even though you know the outcome, your heart pounds as you read her journey and that of her family. It is sad at times but overall, an empowering story of strength.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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The grit it must have taken

Hyeonseo Lee has taken courage to a new level in her amazing story. I so appreciated the look into the hidden society of North Korea. Ms. Lee exposes all facets of life there as she tells her remarkable story with its convoluted struggle for escape. We grow with her as the story progresses from childhood innocence to a calculating, determined young woman taking enormous risks to become free. I would like to thank her for also taking the risk of writing her memoir. It not only inspires, but it reminds us what a long and costly road freedom can be, something we in the US should never take for granted.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating story, inadequate narration.

What aspect of Josie Dunn’s performance would you have changed?

The Korean pronunciations were wrong and unintelligible. Korean is not a difficult language to pronounce; research should have been done.

Any additional comments?

For titles with significant foreign names or vocab, find a narrator who speaks a bit of the language in question.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Daryl
  • Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • 07-16-17

A Love for a Dictatorship?

I was incredulous upon starting this compelling book. How could someone love a country like North Korea, where simply speaking out against the government could be cause for a death sentence?
And yet, it is very clear that Hyeonseo Lee does love her country, for the life she lived there when times were good.
In riveting prose, she describes her life in North Korea as a child, who her parents were, what was good and what was tragic. A trip across the river into China was risky business, but as a teenager she went across to experience the world and has not been able to return to the country of her birth since then - nearly twenty years ago. She describes her actions with the benefit of hindsight, how she could be naive and cruel and otherwise hurtful to those around her. It is clear that she deeply regrets some of her actions, particularly as a teenager toward her father and brother. But in a country like North Korea, second chances are few, and the opportunities to make amends are few and far between. Hyeonseo Lee clearly carries a fighter's spirit, a lot of regret, and yet hope for the country of her birth.
As others have stated, another narrator would have been a better choice. As the author has no connection whatsoever to the UK, having a British narrator was quite jarring. She was good at her performance, but an American or Asian narrator would have been a better choice.
Overall, well worth your time and credit.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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important and entertaining

so moving. and humbling. and hard to believe what someone else, my age, was living and dealing with as I lead my life so freely in another world.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Narrator should have been Korean

The book was very interesting, dramatic, thought-provoking, and inspiring. The only thing that could have been improved would have been to use a narrator with a Korean accent. It was distracting to me to be envisioning Hyeonseo going through all of her experiences, but hearing it through a British accent. The narrator was very good - I would listen to anything else she read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding

Well written. Grabbed my attention from beginning to end. It really opened my eyes to the reality of a dystopian world some people are trapped in.
As a westerner I cannot truly appreciate all I am blessed with and allowed because I expect noting less. This book brought home how some in the world expect nothing more than a daily battle of wits for survival.
I would highly recommend this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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One of the greatest books I've ever read

The story of people from North Korea is outstanding. It is hard to believe that at this present time there are still countries run by dictators.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • reader101
  • 08-14-17

Great story, gripping & educational

Loved the book. Incredible story. What a woman! So much courage and determination. Wasn't keen on narrators cockney second voices thought that was irritating.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Pootle_around
  • 05-12-17

Hideous pronunciation of Mandarin!

Such a shame they used an English narrator who couldn't pronounce 'alias' and had a horrible intonation when pronouncing 'Mandarin'. Every time she said it, it made me want to scream. Interesting autobiography but poor narrator was distracting.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Jo Blogs
  • 12-15-17

Gets better and better.... Very humbling......

Amazing person..... What a story.. And I do believe in angels
Apparently four words remaining all gone

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  • G. E. Kingsbury
  • 11-03-17

outstanding

this book kept me gripped throughout . I thought it could become dull as normal life is but this is no normal life . a great view on the mindset of North Korea and the amazing resilience of its people. courage determination and honesty love it

  • Overall
  • Miss L. H. Fisher
  • 10-28-17

Real..

Insights into an unknown world. I truly enjoyed many aspects of this book and found it enjoyable as well. I didn't mind the narrator.

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  • Hoskins
  • 10-17-17

Fantastic

What an excellent book. I just couldn’t stop listening to it. The world knows about North Korea but to hear how people live in such a repressive society it both sad and shocking. Also how other people make a profit in other people’s desperation to escape.

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  • npsmith
  • 10-08-17

excellent

I actually felt the nerves for her during this book to the point of saying "good luck" aloud at one point, whilst listening A very moving account. well narrated.

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  • Helen W.
  • 08-31-17

Brilliant and Moving

A truly gripping and emotional read which offers amazing insight into a hidden and wicked world.

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  • FLowry
  • 08-11-17

I loved this book

I thought this book had the perfect mix
of suspense, joy, sadness and factual information. I listened to it very quickly and enjoyed every minute.

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  • Karen Brown
  • 05-20-17

An amazing story of bravery and courage.

My first time with audio and I wasn't disappointed. Josie Dunn does a great job. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Hyeonseo. A must for reading or audio.